Wednesday, March 26

Starting Seeds Indoors

You guys, I can hardly wait for warm garden weather. We started our square foot garden two years ago, but last year was kind of a dud with just a few tomato plants that showed up on their own (I was pregnant and totally unmotivated.) so I'm ready to finally give it a real go again! The boys and I spent a really warm day last week hoeing the garden and pulling up the last few plants still hanging out from last summer to get it new-plant-ready. Of course today it's snowing. So it's still going to be a while before we can actually get things started out there. But we are not deterred, and in fact we're actually already going strong in the guest room! We're trying something new this year to save a few dollars and we're starting our plants from seeds indoors. After reading up and stressing out and trying to map out a planting schedule, I decided I might as well jump in before it's too late. I took parts of what I read here and there and I'm making the rest up as I go. So this is how we started our seeds indoors in seven easy steps. It may not be the best (so please give me any tips you have!), but it's certainly better than the nothing we were doing before!

Step 1: Buy seeds. 
We had a collection of seeds in the freezer from 2+ years ago that we started with (no sense buying more if these would still sprout!) We needed to fill in a few gaps for veggies we hadn't grown before or had bought as plants later in the season. We ordered our new guys from SeedsNow, which specializes in heirloom, non-GMO seeds, and best of all offers sample size packs for just $0.99 each! The packs we ordered have between 10 - 200 seeds depending on the veggie, but that's plenty for our backyard garden purposes. I may try saving seeds at the end of the season for next year. I'll let you know how that goes.

Step 2: Find pots.

Once I had my seeds, I skimmed through the info on the website, asked friends, and flipped through a few gardening books (Square Foot Gardening, The Backyard Homestead, and Four-Season Harvest) to figure out the when and how of actually starting them. I'll tell you what - there is a lot of information out there. It can be pretty overwhelming. I reached a point where I realized I had to just go for it or I was going to burn out before I even began. I started saving empty lettuce boxes and egg cartons to use as free pots. I poked holes in the bottom of the plastic containers to make sure they could drain to keep the soil from getting too soaked.

Step 3: Fill pots.
About two weeks ago I decided it was time! It seemed like the average time to start seeds was 6 weeks before planting outside... and I honestly have no idea when I should be planting them outside, but I had a few facebook friends with gardening experience posting that they were starting seeds so I just followed their lead. I filled the containers with leftover potting soil from last summer. Some sources said specifically not to use potting soil and use combinations of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost... but we're going for cheaps here, so free potting soil wins! And so far it's been working great.

Step 4: Plant seeds.
Use your finger to poke a hole in the dirt. Place seed in hole. Cover with dirt. Easy peasy. One thing I have no concept of is how much food each kind of plant will make. I'm just assuming that's something we'll figure out this year and know for next year, so I'm shooting for 4 - 6 of each kind of plant (some have multiple varieties like two kinds of beans and two kinds of bell peppers, I still did four of each). Except tomatoes. I'll plant as many of those as I have room for. I'm also taking a swing at succession planting this year. The idea is to just plant a couple seeds every two weeks to extend the harvest season and keep you from being overwhelmed with everything popping up at once. I did 2 - 3 of each seed two weeks ago and just did another round yesterday. I might do another round. We'll see.

Don't forget to label the boxes so you know what's what! We used craft sticks from Dollar Tree - $1 for 100 sticks. Big Brother helped with a red marker. "Mama, I maked the letters for this one!"

Step 5: Feed the seeds.
Start with some water. Be gentle so you don't displace the seeds. One site suggested using like a turkey baster... but I just used a measuring cup and held it down close to the dirt and poured carefully. I watered them pretty good the first time so they were nice and damp but not swimming.

Next you need some good old sunshine. We set up a card table in front of a sunny window in our guest room where it gets lots of southern exposure. I followed one tip to cover the containers with plastic until the seeds sprouted to keep the moisture in. 

Step 6: Wait.
And compulsively check for signs of life everyday. Make sure to add water if the soil is too dry. The first sprouts started peeking out in a couple days and since then Big Brother has been the one reminding me to check on them. He gets so excited when he spots something new popping up. Once the sprouts reached the plastic I took it off. I have no idea if the plastic helped or not.

It's seriously amazing to watch these little guys grow. Especially the beans. This was the day our bean first popped up:

And this was two days later:

And ohmygoodness, Big Brother went to check them one day and said "Mama! I found a ducky!!!" It was this little pumpkin guy:

Step 7: Keep it Alive Until Spring.
The most important thing is to keep them warm, sunny, and properly watered. The trickiest part for me is trying to decide if they need more water or if they have too much. You're going for damp but not soaked. I actually had one box definitely to wet and it started to grow mold, but a couple days in the sun to dry out cleared it up. Now I just stick my finger in the dirt of each pot and if it feel to dry I add a little water, if not I skip it until next time. It's better to water a little often then to drench them all at once... I think.

The other thing you need to watch out for is plants growing too big for their original containers. I read about this ahead of time and I was all "Meh, my plants will fit just fine until I move them to the garden." I severely underestimated how much/fast plants grow. I've already moved the beans to individual cups. They were growing so fast I was afraid they were going to have huge roots getting all tangled together! I carefully scooped each plant out of the original container, planted it into a plastic cup with holes poked in the bottom, and topped it off with some more potting soil. I'm sure the ones in the egg cartons will need to be transplanted eventually to make sure they have enough room to grow big strong roots. Next time I'm planning to just start with cups to hopefully avoid the trouble of transplanting.

And that's it folks! Seeds, dirt, water and sunshine will have you on your way to a beautiful garden in no time! Our little office garden has it starting to feel like spring already. Even when it's snowing.

What are your favorite tricks or tips for starting a garden from seeds? I know it's a little early to worry about this, but I'm also thinking about winter planting since I've been reading Four-Season Harvest. But I'm in the gardening mindset so I'm wondering if we should build some greenhouse boxes and go ahead and start some things there that could continue through the winter? I don't know. I'd love to hear any experiences you have with that too!

Don't have a good place to start your seeds? Dan built our open storage vanity as a plant table and it would be perfect for this as well! Free plans to build your own are here.

Got your seeds planted? Good. While you wait for your sprouts you can enjoy these little boys.

Big Brother is happy to be playing with a flashlight.

He asked me to take a picture like this and he put on his super-serious face. In hindsight it's probably because the light was shining in my face and that's usually not allowed.

When Baby Brother wanders off he's almost always in the office opening doors on the play kitchen.

Big Brother always wants to join in on the cooking fun. He makes me tea and ice cream.

Do you have a garden? Are you starting seeds this year? I'd love to hear any garden plans!


  1. We planted seeds this week and are keeping our fingers crossed that they sprout!

    1. How are they looking? I have a few that never sprouted (boo) but the rest seem to be hanging in there. :)